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Dragons

For Beginners


About the Author Shawn MacKenzie (North Bennington, VT) had her first Dragon encounter when she was four years old, when she happened upon an a copy of The Dragon Green by J. BissellThomas. A sci-fi/fantasy writer, she is an avid student of myth, religion, philosophy, and animals real, imaginary, large, and small.

To Write to the Author If you wish to contact the author or would like more information about this book, please write to the author in care of Llewellyn Worldwide, and we will forward your request. Both the author and publisher appreciate hearing from you and learning of your enjoyment of this book and how it has helped you. Llewellyn Worldwide cannot guarantee that every letter written to the author can be answered, but all will be forwarded. Please write to: Shawn MacKenzie â „o Llewellyn Worldwide 2143 Wooddale Drive Woodbury, MN 55125-2989 c

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Dragons s r e n n i g e B r Fo Ancient Creatures in a Modern World

S h a w n M ac K e n z i e

Llewellyn Publications Woodbury, Minnesota


Dragons for Beginners: Ancient Creatures in a Modern World © 2012 by Shawn MacKenzie. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Llewellyn Publications, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. First Edition First Printing, 2012 Book format by Bob Gaul Cover art: Dragon © Linda Bucklin/Shutterstock.com Cover design by Adrienne Zimiga Editing by Nicole Nugent Llewellyn Publications is a registered trademark of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data MacKenzie, Shawn, 1954– Dragons for beginners: ancient creatures in a modern world/by Shawn MacKenzie. p. cm. ISBN 978-0-7387-3045-5 1. Dragons. I. Title. GR830.D7M344 2012 398.24'54—dc23 2012012037 Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd. does not participate in, endorse, or have any authority or responsibility concerning private business transactions between our authors and the public. All mail addressed to the author is forwarded, but the publisher cannot, unless specifically instructed by the author, give out an address or phone number. Any Internet references contained in this work are current at publication time, but the publisher cannot guarantee that a specific location will continue to be maintained. Please refer to the publisher’s website for links to authors’ websites and other sources. Llewellyn Publications A Division of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd. 2143 Wooddale Drive Woodbury, MN 55125-2989 www.llewellyn.com Printed in the United States of America


Other books by Shawn MacKenzie The Dragon Keeper’s Handbook


contents

acknowledgments xiii introduction: Welcome to Dragon Country 1 part I: Dragon Basics: What They Are and Why We Need Them one—Facts, Figures, and Defining Terms 9 two—Oriental Dragons 25 three—Occidental Dragons 41 four—Feathered Dragons 57 five—Pseudo-dragons 73


x  •  Contents

part II: Dragons in Faith, Magic, and the Arts six—Dragons in Religion and Philosophy 97 seven—Dragons in Magic and Alchemy 129 eight—Dragons in Literature and the Arts 155

part III: Living with Dragons nine—In the World 183 ten—In the Family 195

epilogue: Pondering the Unthinkable: A World Without Dragons 225 glossary 231 bibliography 249 recommended reading 255


For my father, who taught me to see with wonder.


Acknowledgments Special thanks to my fellow writers on both sides of North Branch. With patience, fresh eyes, and open minds, they followed me into Dragon Country and kept me on track when I was tempted to stray.

xiii


In the beginning, The Great Cosmic Dragon kissed the sun. Her fiery wings held close the earth. The air shook with Her thunderous smile. —Shawn MacKenzie


introduction Welcome to Dragon Country

S

omewhere between the craggy mountains of modern science and the forested lowlands of primordial myth, thunder rolls across lapis skies and the air is fragrant with spice and fire. This is Dragon Country. It’s a land I’ve known since I was no more than knee-high to a kickle snifter. Through the years I have explored it, cardinal point to point, growing gray among its residents. I have gone Dragon-watching from Europe to the Pacific Northwest, from desert sands to glacial floes. I’ve seen enchantments bathe in Iceland’s thermal pools and tail-dance along Vermont’s Green Mountains.

1


2  •  Introduction

Ah, I sense a whiff of incredulity in the air. “Dragons? You’ve seen Dragons?” The poet Ralph Hodgson was fond of saying, “Some things have to be believed to be seen.” In the realm of weyr (Dragon community) and wing, this is as close to gospel as it gets. And why shouldn’t we believe? From prehistory to the present, Dragons have informed our species’ ties with a mix of wonder, skepticism, dread, and—ultimately—mighty leaps of faith. Of course, being open to the rare and unusual and to the hidden all around us is a subjective thing, even more so when it comes to beings who sail the eternal winds between reality and myth. That said, the range and power of Dragons is such that they have fared far better than a host of lesser creatures, capturing the imagination so that, whether we love them or loathe them, even when out of sight, Dragons are never out of mind. Personally, I prefer to love them. My first Dragon sighting occurred in 1963, in Devonshire, England, on the rural fringes of Dartmoor. Prime Dragon Country. Moor and woodland, the wilderness was a playground for me! One particular haunt of mine was a dense beech and rhododendron forest surrounding a deserted mica mine, which I explored whenever I could. On one such trek, out of the corner of my eye, I spied something—something large—quietly weaving in and out of the woods. I turned, but there was nothing there. A play of my imagination, I figured, continuing on my way. Then I saw it again—on the other side of the lane! I stopped and stared hard, trying to pick out a creature from the camouflaging bands of shade and filtered sun. Something had moved, I was sure of it.


Welcome to Dragon Country  •  3

Suddenly, with a roar and a whoosh that knocked me flat, a young emerald green Dragon flew out of the woods, swooped over my head, circled the mine, then zoomed straight up through the canopy and disappeared. I was dumbstruck. Not scared, just … wowed! Even in England, I knew you didn’t see Dragons every day. Yet I had. For some reason, the Great Dragon had smiled on me that day, and blessed me with my first real live Dragon encounter. Of course, how we think of Dragons has a lot to do with our initial contacts. The first Dragons I met all those years ago were not frightful monsters but fiercely loyal guardians against the terrors of the dark. Over the decades, they changed as I did. They became larger, more intelligent, and more complex. More wild. Striving to keep up, to be the best Dragon person I could, and to understand them as best I could, I threw myself into their history and ways, both natural and mystical. I discovered tales and wonders along the way, and all sorts of Dragons. They never asked much, never demanded parades or unconditional approval (though we’ve given them the former and, as for the latter, well, anyone who’s spent an afternoon around a weyr knows we’re none of us perfect). No, they simply wanted to be seen in all their elaborate, sometimes-messy truth—from horned brow to spiky tail—and respected for the beings they are, like every other traveler on the planet. From respect comes appreciation; from appreciation, love. What could be simpler? Unfortunately, I discovered there is little simple about our long history with Dragons. A lot of bad blood lingers on both sides. For our part, it’s further complicated by fictions, superstitions, and outright lies, tumbling headlong


4  •  Introduction

into blind disbelief. In the face of all that, there is only one answer: the truth. In Wales, land of many Dragons, there is a saying: Y gwir yn erbyn y bydd! “Truth against the world!” And nothing imparts truth like a tête-à-tête with a Dragon. It is an experience guaranteed to beat back the darkest night like Dragonfire, and to remind us that, across leagues and eons, Dragons remain the one universal, familiar bit of magic we carry with us. And in return they carry our awe. Surely theirs is the weightier burden! For that reason alone, these great ancient creatures are as necessary today as they ever were. And yet there is so much more to love about Dragons. They teach us to keep connected with the planet, which is critical these days when Earth’s delicate balance is in danger of being shattered. The more we lose touch with the wilderness and the damage we’ve done to the world, the more we need Dragons to remind us of our place in the natural order of things and the responsibility we owe to each other and to the planet. By consorting with Dragons we are able to tap into the better parts of ourselves, to be inspired by their courage, loyalty, justice, and family devotion. Even their humility—yes, Dragons can be humble—can teach us. The study of Dragons is little less than the study of the world: zoology, biology, physics, chemistry, toxicology, aeronautics, mythology, cosmology, religion, ontology, ethics, sociology, even Dragon lore … the list goes on and on, in short, encompassing what it means to be human.


Welcome to Dragon Country  •  5

We need to keep Dragons in the modern world so that we might keep the mystery and wonder in our lives. We ignore Dragons at our own—and the world’s—peril. For those of you new to the world of Dragons, let this book be your guide. In Part I, you will be introduced to the basic scientific facts—from size to diet, habitat to habits—of the three species of True Dragons: Eastern (Asian), Western (European), and Feathered (Southern or New World). You will also meet a cross section of lesser or pseudo-dragons. They are the vaguely dragonish creatures from around the world who flesh out local Dragon lore and keep Dragonwatchers on their toes. This is Dragon Studies 101, sure to guarantee that you’re safe in the wild and don’t make a fool of yourself at the next Dragon convention. Don’t forget to consult the glossary and bibliography as needed! Part II looks at our changing relationship with Dragons throughout history, focusing on religion, the occult sciences, and art and literature. It traces their cultural influence from their honored days in ancient China, where they influenced Taosim and the divining art of the I Ching, to the pages of modern faërie tales and literary fantasy; from their role as the devil’s minions to their being used piecemeal for alchemists’ elixirs. Finally, in Part III, you will learn how to live with Dragons in both wild and domestic settings. You will be introduced to the rules and ways of modern Dragon sanctuaries and lay-bys as well as the fundamentals of Dragon keeping—should you be so lucky and inclined—from hatching fire to the thrill of flight and the demands and responsibilities of advanced age.


6  •  Introduction

Dragons and Dragon keepers, old friends, new colleagues, comrades of scale and burning blood—I offer you these pages. They are my invitation. Come. Walk with me through Dragon Country.


Part I Dragon Basics: What They Are and Why We Need Them


one Facts, Figures, and Defining Terms

T

hree hundred thousand years ago, when Homo sapiens walked out of Africa, Dragons were everywhere. Around every river bend, on every mountain top, they basked at ease, the reigning predators in a wild and woolly world. Our ancient ancestors cast their eyes to the heavens and were wowed by the sheer otherworldly grandeur winging across the horizon. To primitive minds Dragons were nothing short of divine. They were the roar of sea and the blinding flash of lightning; gentle life-giving rains and inexplicable death in the night. They were the terrible danger lurking beyond the glow of village fires and the benevolent warmth of the fires themselves. Bigger, fiercer, more incredible than any other creature real or imagined, no beings— 9


10  •  Chapter One

including man—have roamed so far or evolved so well. From the dawn of time, these were Dragons. They still are. Don’t be so surprised. Earth has managed to spawn a stellar array of life. From microscopic viruses to macroscopic pteradons, from bear cats to short-nosed bats, blue skimmers to blue whales, sporting fur, feathers, skin, and scales. The planet’s biodiversity is truly spectacular. Just walk through the woods with ears pricked and eyes wide and you will find creatures, great and small, extraordinary enough to fill even the most jaded city slicker with awe. Spanning the taxonomic continuum, the common and the rare are there for the observing. Harder to see are the mystical and the fabulous, the beings we’ve come to consider truly otherworldly. Griffins, unicorns, dryads, phoenix—their numbers are legion, their names and forms as varied as local habitat and custom allow. Over time many have gone the way of the moa and mammoth, a way currently slick with whale oil and strewn with tiger pelts and lyrebird quills. Those mystical creatures that remain slip in and out of the shadows, struggling to survive as environs and belief grow increasingly short in supply. They dance along the margins of medieval manuscripts and through the peripheral vision of cryptozoologists, mythologists, and literary fantasists. Thanks to a dwindling familiarity with the arcane, many incredible creatures pass without so much as a second look from humans who wouldn’t know a kitsune (fox spirit) from a chipmunk. They wear the cloak of modest anonymity that allows them to avoid the dangerously acquisitive and fearfully ignorant. To linger among us a little longer. And then there are Dragons.


Facts, Figures, and Defining Terms  •  11

Magnificent, preternatural, take-your-breath-away Dragons. Soaring on the four winds, surfing the seven seas, Dragons have never indulged in anonymity. Tossing all notions of “local” onto the dung heap, they went global in a big way. They carved out niches in every ecosystem: burning deserts and glacial peaks, verdant tropics and scrub-grassed plains. They lashed the clouds with Dragonfire and bent low the trees with Dragonsong. Woven into the tapestry of the Homo sapien experience, Dragons are so integral to human faith, history, science, and fiction that everyone today knows—or at least thinks they know—all about them. Yet, as eternally ubiquitous as Dragons are, our presumed knowledge of them is informed as much by individual customs, encounters, and locales as by scientific facts. While this variety is spectacular in the abstract, in practice it mixes a little truth with a lot of abject fantasy in a stew that leaves the casual Dragon aficionado confused and misinformed. If you are hoping to establish any sort of personal relationship with Dragons, this is hardly the best way to begin. In the enduring words of Mark Twain, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” When it comes to Dragons, such an approach will not only get you into trouble, it might get you killed. Thus, as we step into the headwaters of Dragon Studies, it is important to be on the same page with respect to the basic facts, figures, and terms. To learn one’s draconic ABCs. Welcome to the world of cryptoherpetology. “What?” you ask.


12  •  Chapter One

Cryptoherpetology is the branch of natural and metaphysical sciences dealing with hidden or mystical (crypto) reptiles and amphibians (herpetology). The more whimsical in the field—and lovers of alliteration—refer to it as Secret Serpent Science. Briefly put, it’s Dragon Studies. Included in Dragon Studies are all Dragons—True and pseudo—as well as a collection of creatures outside simple zoological classification that tend to have one or more herpetological characteristics, most often scales. (With the exception of the fire salamander, crypto-amphibians are more faërie tale than fact and are thus irrelevant to the study at hand.) While science is at the heart of cryptoherpetology, the field, like its subjects, is considerably more far-reaching and inclusive, spreading its branches like a great banyan tree over humanity and her cultures. Magic, religion, art, sociology—all are impacted by the study of Dragons. A word of caution: Dragon lore is the twig on the cryptoherpetological tree that, while charming in its own way, is overburdened with fiction and shoddy scholarship—some might even call it willful deception. As a body of “information,” lore clearly points to the difference between what is true about Dragons and what people choose to believe is true. For when Dragons were adopted by various cultures, their attributes were adapted to the particular needs and attitudes of the society in question. This makes for good storytelling but bad science. Any serious dracophile will temper their appreciation of lore with liberal doses of hard facts. Those—and there are many—who would dismiss the entire field as fantasy would do well to remember the words of the noted British chemist, Sir Cyril Hinshelwood (1897– 1967): “[All science is] an imaginative adventure of the


Facts, Figures, and Defining Terms  •  13

mind seeking truth in a world of mystery.” If that doesn’t cover Dragons, nothing does. But how does a cryptoherpetologist direct her passion? What is a Dragon? The Oxford English Dictionary—gold standard for all things Anglo-lexical—takes the word back to its Greek roots: drakõn—“strong one”—and derkesthai —“to see clearly.”1 It goes on to define a Dragon as: A mythical monster, represented as a huge and terrible reptile, usually combining ophidian and crocodilian structure, with strong claws, like a beast or bird of prey, and a scaly skin; it is generally represented with wings, and sometimes as breathing out fire. The heraldic dragon combines reptilian and mammalian form with the addition of wings. Though rather Eurocentric, this thumbnail sketch hits enough of the highlights to guarantee even the most Dracoilliterate individual can distinguish a Welsh Red from a golden retriever, though not much more. This is your standard big-D, or True, Dragon: large, scaly, and with a voracious appetite. This image is so rooted in our human memories that in virtually all six-thousand-plus languages of this world—and a few out of it—you can say “Dragon” and be confident you are speaking of a creature that loses little in translation. While the details might vary from region to region, the basics—particularly with reference to Western and Eastern True Dragons— 1. In Webster’s slightly more accessible—and easier on the eyes—lexicon, drakõn and derkesthai lead back to “the seeing one,” aka the Watcher. This is particularly relevant when examining Dragons as guardians and hoarders. See chapter 3.


14  •  Chapter One

remain essentially the same. (The third of the True Dragon species, the Feathered Dragons, are so rare that many even in the cryptozoological community almost consider them in a class by themselves. See chapter 4. ) Of course, as any dracophile will tell you, a few lines in the dictionary, no matter how well-intentioned, cannot begin to capture a fraction of all that is Dragon. Evidence from medieval anecdotes and natural histories (aka bestiaries), for example, argues that dragon was originally shorthand for any creature frightening, vaguely reptilian, and unexplained. As humankind evolved and became less afraid of the dark, we sifted through generic terrors and distilled Dragons down into the specific creatures with scales, wings, and scorching breath we know today. Along the way, a trail of small-d pseudo-dragons was left running though every nook, cranny, and cultural hollow of the world. From Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic Circle, from the jungles of Asia to the Great Plains, land and sea are thick with creatures who fall under the broad draconic rubric (some of whom we will examine in chapter 5). Fascinating though they are, most are no more Dragons than puppies are whales. Still, their presence speaks to the scope of Dragons and Dragon lore, and their tales pad cryptozoology texts the world over. More on point to our study are the issues raised by such a definition’s use of the dreaded M words: monster and mythical. Throwing the label “monster” around is something to which many Dragon lovers—and likely most Dragons—take exception. It is a sign of human arrogance that we tag anything strange, massive, predatory—anything we don’t understand—with pejoratives like “monster” or


Facts, Figures, and Defining Terms  •  15

“beast,” words that are reserved for the most heinous of our own kind. Thanks to Genesis, even reptilian is slanderous in most human circles, implying someone is mean, base, and sneaky. Though the reference speaks to our innate need for this dark element in the world, surely Dragons deserve better. Those of you who are justly offended by such namecalling can be heartened by the fact that the Latin for monster, monstum, can also mean “miracle” and “omen.” Dragon as miracle has a nice ring to it. Monsters or not, referring to Dragons as “mythical” clearly illustrates the limitations of conventional wisdom, even among the learned wordsmiths of the OED. Not that we should be surprised. Since Dragons are seldom seen sauntering across Oxford’s ley lines or frolicking in the university’s South Park duck pond, it is understandable that they are cloaked in the mantle of the fantastic. Even experts are divided on the matter, insisting Dragons are either fact, fiction, or long-ago-fact/now-extinct-fiction. This debate could take up volumes, so, for the purpose of these pages, stretch your minds and sink your mental fangs firmly into the belief that Dragons not only existed in millennia past but grace the world to this day.

True Dragons: Fundamental Facts and Shared Traits Three species of big-D True Dragons claim Earth as their home: the Eastern or Oriental, the Western or Occidental, and the Feathered or New World. Some scholars, for the sake of global continuity, include the Rainbow Serpents of Africa and Australia among the True Dragons. The consensus in


16  •  Chapter One

the draconic community is that this works on a cosmological level but not a practical one, since modern Rainbow Serpents have only spiritual, not physical, mass. (Still, when it comes to talking Cosmic Dragons, Rainbow Serpents are up there with the best of them. See chapter 6.) Though there are species-specific differences among this draconic trinity, there are also a few constants. All True Dragons are elemental in nature. More than any other creatures, they are connected to the Earth, their massive bodies rolling like hills, their claws digging deep like tap roots, their fiery sighs steaming like Yellowstone geysers. This relationship to the planet is believed to have played a crucial role in draconic evolution. Depending on whom you talk to, the first Dragon ancestors showed up somewhere between 250 million and 100 million years ago. Through cunning, luck, and intricate links to the planet’s energy, small protoDragons (unrecognizable by modern standards) managed to survive extinction-level events that wiped out larger, swifter, more dominant species. They drifted with the continents to every corner of the world and, by approximately 60 million years ago, evolved into the elegant True Dragons we know today. More rigid voices in the scientific community are eager to point out that much of this is pure, though educated, conjecture. The fossil record for Dragons is all but nonexistent, which in and of itself proves nothing: fossils have only been found for a mere fraction of all species that ever existed. But it gives ammunition to those who insist that Dragons are new on the planetary scene, following the human wake rather than us following theirs. Whether you believe Dragons are old or very old, the fact remains that they never lost their ties to the Earth. As


Facts, Figures, and Defining Terms  •  17

people have retreated farther and farther from the natural state, Dragons remain an essential touchstone, keeping us connected with the wilder world around us—the world upon which we all must rely. But do not confuse wild with simple. Dragons are anything but. True Dragons are social beings, not only treasuring the company of their kind but recognizing that there is strength in numbers. They live in communities known as weyrs (rhymes with fears). Each weyr is made up of between two and four Dragon clans or enchantments. In the past, before people ran rampant and land-greedy across the continents, weyrs were much larger, sheltering up to ten enchantments at a time. This led to a robust gene pool and generations of Dragons who could take on anything the world threw their way. The extended family units also provide a nurturing environment in which a mating pair— Queen and Sire—can raise their wee Dragonlets, confident they are getting the best possible start in life. The complexity of Dragon species is also evident in their diet. True Dragons are omnivores. In fact, they will eat most anything except other Dragons. They also shy away from ingesting other reptiles, considering it bad form to dine on a cousin, no matter how distant—and modern mundane reptiles are about as far from Dragons as you can get and still have scales. That said, should push come to shove and food be scarce, all bets are off. The role vegetation plays in draconic fare is, naturally, habitat specific: the greater the abundance and diversity, the greater the consumption. A European Schwartzwald Singlehorn, for example, will have a lot more greens cross her palate than a Sahel Dunehopper from the deserts of North Africa. Zoologists are discovering that the more


18  •  Chapter One

intricate the diet, the more intelligent the creature, and Dragons are easily the most keen-witted of the crypto species. They can even give us poor humans a run for our money.

Misunderstandings, Untruths, and Outright Lies There is a slew of information out there about Dragons which, despite its repetition in fantasy and bestiary, is just flat-out wrong. Dragons are not immortal. However, they are extremely long-lived. Barring accident, natural disaster, and/or human predation, it is presumed—though still unproved—that a Dragon can live to see her five hundredth birthday. This may seem immortal to us, but that view is relativistic rather than factual. Dragons are not related to dinosaurs. This is an error in the record arising from the fact that the ancient Chinese believed great finds of dinosaur fossils were really Dragon bones, a mistake not corrected until the nineteenth century. Though their distant ancestors were around when the “terrible lizards” reigned, Dragons come from a very different branch of the evolutionary tree. Some might say it’s a whole new tree altogether. True Dragons are not strictly reptilian. Most notably, Dragons are not ectothermic (cold-blooded); nor are they endothermic (warm-blooded). They are, in fact, a little of both with a touch of gigantothermy thrown in for good measure. This means that, like megafauna—and, yes, certain dinosaurs—they rely on their considerable bulk to auto-regulate their body temperature and remain active without giv-


Facts, Figures, and Defining Terms  •  19

ing a thought to recharging their solar selves. Cold-climate Dragons have even been known to employ kleptothermy— the “stealing” or sharing of body warmth—to get themselves through long winter nights. Unlike other reptiles, Dragons can also sport fur and feathers. But they are all scaled to one degree or another. Feathered Dragons, as their name attests, are arrayed with exquisite plumage, and the manes and ankle tufts of Oriental Dragons are legendary. Even Western Dragons emerge from their eggs with a fine fuzzy coat which serves to keep the hatchlings warm and toasty. While the majority of Western Dragons shed this infant down by the summer of their third year, rimed Siberian and Polar Dragons have been known to retain this extra layer of insulation around neck and chest well into adulthood, even letting it grow thick and shaggy. Against the biting winds and blizzarding snows, every little bit helps. Not all True Dragons fly. And some Dragons who do fly—like the more exalted Oriental breeds—manage without benefit of wings. Scientists are still trying to figure that one out, though many simply shrug their shoulders and file it under “mysterious Dragon stuff.” The fact is, as cuttingedge as cryptoherpetology is, what we don’t know far outweighs what we do. At present, there are still many things about Dragons that are met with a wink, a nod, and an “Oy vey!” or “That’s funny.” In short, there is a lot left to discover, and the field is wide open for the curious and diligent (no slackers need apply). Not all Dragons breathe fire. Fire is the defensive weapon of choice for Western Dragons and a select group of pseudodragons, like the fire drake (the name “fire drake” is a dead


20  •  Chapter One

giveaway). Feathered Dragons are equipped with retractable fangs and huge venom glands, which they employ to lethal effect when they must, and Oriental Dragons use various mixtures of mist and venom. Western Frost Dragons, though able to breathe fire, usually opt for a less fatal approach, combining fire with ice and exhaling directed clouds of hoarfrost. This will stop any foe as fast as Medusa’s stare, though less permanently. Sound is also part of the draconic defensive arsenal. A good bellow can knock birds from the sky—an unfortunate side effect—and humans off their feet. More than a few poachers have come out of Dragon Country deaf as well as empty handed. Dragons are not nocturnal. This is a longstanding misconception popularized during the Middle Ages, when Dragons were frequently spotted lighting the night sky with their fire. The sight would have been dramatic enough to inspire the least imaginative mind—and Dragons do enjoy the dramatic. By Elizabethan times, William Shakespeare (1564–1616) had slipped the notion of these night fliers into the literary as well as the popular imagination: Puck: My fairy lord, this must be done with haste, For night’s swift dragons cut the clouds full fast. —A Midsummer Night’s Dream III.ii.378–79 Iachimo: … Swift, swift, you dragons of the night, that dawning May bare the raven’s eye. —Cymbeline II.ii.48


Facts, Figures, and Defining Terms  •  21

Some have argued that the Bard was referring not to real Dragons but to meteors streaking across the sky. While this is possible, the idea of Dragons being synonymous with shooting stars surely came from seeing Dragons reveling aloft after hours. Amateur dracophiles continued to believe Dragons were creatures of the night well into the twentieth century thanks to the dangers of the post-Industrial world that forced our friends to fine-tune their daytime camouflage. It’s not that they weren’t out and about during the day, they simply weren’t seen. While Dragons enjoy late night romps, as far as their daily routines go, they are primarily crepuscular. This means they are active at dawn and dusk, when they can use the shifting light to shield them from view of prey and foe. Long hours of bright, tropical sun force Feathered Dragons to be the most diurnal—or daytime-active—of the big three species, hunting through their sun-drenched habitats with grace, their exceptional eyesight letting them spy a meal even through dense rain forest canopies. A note of warning: Though dusky hours are considered best for Dragon watching, do be careful. Dragons on the wing at that time are usually hunting. As good as their vision is, half-light leads them to hunt by sound and scent as well as sight. Though they’d prefer a deer to a human, mistakes can be made even by the most scrupulous Dragon. Dragons are not evil. The most insidious bit of misinformation about Dragons is that they are nasty, damselstealing, human-eating creatures. Let’s break this down. First, there is no good and evil in nature. There is order and chaos, danger and innocence, balance and imbalance. Dragons, being as natural as they come, are at times chaotic or fiercely dangerous, but they are no more evil than the


22  •  Chapter One

mouse who raids the granary or the cat who dines on that corn-fattened rodent. As for flying off with fair maids for a late-night snack, this too is utter nonsense concocted by land-hungry chieftains looking to appropriate prime real estate occupied by local enchantments. How better to work one’s minions into a fury than by terrorizing them with fears of daughters lost to ravening maws? Unfortunately, young women (wenches and princesses alike) were left as sacrificial offerings, and many of them died. But it was much more likely they succumbed to exposure or wildcat attacks than a rampant case of draconic munchies. The truth is, Dragons find us decidedly unappetizing and, given a choice, will much prefer mutton to man every day of the week. While this doesn’t take humans completely off the menu, we are morsels of last resort or opportunity, as in the case of famine or Dragon hunters in the wrong place at the wrong time. Remember, Dragons will defend themselves with lethal force if need be. This is their right as creatures of the universe. Should a nosh of errant knight fall into their paws as a consequence, it will not go to waste. Recent studies have found that the vast majority of reports of “Dragon Eats Man” should be attributed to large pseudo-dragons (wyverns, hydras, even some lake species) that find themselves at odds with the modern world. Pseudo-dragons are more consistently carnivorous and some, like the wyvern and hydra, require a lot of flesh to satisfy their appetites. As with so many other animals, we have stolen their habitat, plundered their food sources, and set many of them squarely in poachers’ sights, all of which send their survival instincts into overdrive and stress their less-than-genteel natures. Naturally. Even the most harm-


Facts, Figures, and Defining Terms  •  23

less looking house dragon can turn killer when cornered. At the very least, they become unpredictable and righteously aggressive. Over the years, our treatment of these wonderful creatures, combined with their dining preferences, has resulted in far more humans falling prey to pseudo-dragons than True Dragons. Unfortunately, the distinction is lost on the press, who, rather than doing their homework, simply paint all draconic beings with the same bloody brush. If your interest is piqued and you want to take that first step and venture into the world of casual Dragon watching, two simple bits of advice:

1. Work with a pro—someone who is not only used to Dragons, but who knows the environment and its inhabitants. This is advisable for anyone out among wild creatures, but even more so when the possibility of injury and even death is not exaggeration but real. 2. When in doubt about anything—species, mating cycle, the phase of the moon, anything!—keep your distance. A good long one. There are far too many unknowns to simply charge recklessly on, sustained only by honorable intentions and whispered prayers. Remember that all Dragons, True and pseudo, are endangered. You’re in their space where their rights and lives are protected. If something nasty happens, under the law the fault is yours.


Dragons for Beginners